Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Unable to Contain Alabama’s Explosive Offense

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish entered Friday’s Rose Bowl as heavy underdogs to the Alabama Crimson Tide and unfortunately lived down to oddsmakers expectations in a loss that ends their season at 10-2. The two defeats ending the season marked the first time since the disastrous 4-6 2016 season that the Irish have concluded a campaign that way.

Indicative of the entire 2020 college football season, the California-based Rose Bowl was moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas because of the continuing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Any hopes that the new surroundings might somehow help the Irish came up short.

Below are some key takeaways from Friday’s clash:

The Time Element

Alabama scored on each of their first three series and wasted little time in putting points on the board. In those three series. the Crimson Tide needed only a combined 18 plays and used only 7:14 of clock to put their 21 first-half points on the scoreboard. That was in contrast to the 15-play, 75-yard scoring drive by the Irish that took 8:03 and gave them their lone points in the first half.

Bama largely relied on the passing arm of Mac Jones to collect those three scores, with Jones completing 14 of 16 during the first two quarters for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Yet, Tide running back Najee Harris’ leaping 55-yard run helped set up Alabama’s second score and was part of a rapid five-play, 97-yard scoring drive.

Showing Some Fight

After Alabama quickly notched their first two scores and the Irish had problems sustaining their offensive drives, the prospect of a rout appeared to be in the offing. Notre Dame then slowed things down as part of their 15-play scoring drive, picking up the score on fourth down after quarterback Ian Book had been stopped at the goal line.

While the Crimson Tide answered with another touchdown to boost their advantage back up to 14 points, the Irish defense held them on their last drive of the first half. With just 37 seconds remaining before intermission and the Irish starting at their own 11-yard line, Book managed to get Notre Dame into field goal position, but the three-point attempt came up short.

Costly Mistakes

A 14-point halftime deficit was certainly not insurmountable for Notre Dame, but some key mistakes after the break helped seal the Irish’s fate. The first of these came after they had stopped Alabama on the first drive of the second half. The Irish got the ball back at their 10 and quickly picked up a pair of first downs. However, Book committed the first turnover of the game with an interception that gave the Crimson Tide the ball on their own 38.

Alabama converted that miscue into another touchdown, followed by a field to take a 31-7 advantage. Starting at their own 25, Notre Dame moved down the field and appeared to have scored on a scoring toss from Book to Michael Mayer. Unfortunately, the Irish were flagged for an illegal shift and eventually turned the ball over on downs, ending their final comeback bid.

Under Air Attack

One of Notre Dame’s main challenges in any victory attempt was to limit the damage from the passing combination of Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith, an effort didn’t succeed. By the time the game had ended, Jones and Smith had connected seven times for 130 yards, with Smith reaching the end zone on three of those grabs.

Jones entered the game as one of the most precise passers in college football history, completing 76.5 percent of his throws during the 2020 season. The Irish were on the receiving end of 25 Tide catches on 30 throws for a total of 297 yards, with Bama picking up plenty of yardage on passes across the middle.

Misleading Number

Notre Dame finished the game with 375 yards of total offense, which was actually their third-lowest amount for a game this season. Yet, even that number was aided by the fact that 180 of those yards came during the fourth quarter, when the Irish were trailing by 24 points..

By that time, Alabama appeared to ease up on defense, allowing Notre Dame to pick up half of their 24 first downs for the day over those final 15 minutes. Yet despite having the ball for 30 plays and holding possession, the best that Notre Dame could do was a single touchdown in the final minute of the game.

Next Up

With the chaotic 2020 season now at an end, the hope is that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic will have subsided by the 2021 season opener. That’s currently scheduled to be the Florida State Seminoles in a Labor Day road matchup.

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  1. When ND. had the ball, I tuned to Skycast. For the most part, the camera angle was behind the QB. That perspective is very telling. You know how all season it appears as though our receivers cannot create space between them and defenders? Through the entire season, kept asking myself, how that could be. Unless you suck as a receiver, you have a huge advantage over a defender. A head fake, a quick step, a sudden stop, they all create the space you need to be open. Problem is when they are, they expect to see a ball in the air, right? Well that, behind the QB perspective, was eye opening in that on most pass plays there was at least one sometimes two receivers with a step on their defenders. Although he’s supposed to check down to a second, third target, his focus is all on the primary. If that guy isn’t open, we see the stutter step, tuck and run. For all his gamesmanship, I believe Book has limited our offense all year. It hit me when Pyne came in and the announcer said, “well he’s playing with a limited playbook”. Thats exactly the case with Book. His playbook is passes inside 10-15 yards.
    From behind, you saw our #11 was shifty enough, to get a step on their #2, supposedly the best corner in CFB. How many attempts went his way? Unfortunately not many. Likewise, our #87 was open every time he snuck behind the LB’s. Witness the final TD drive, what did he make , two or three first down catches in that drive? I believe #13 came in for one catch, and he was wide open.
    I believe we endured an entire season, altho it was a winning one, with a QB playing with a limited playbook.
    Next year, as long as Kelly hasn’t already promised the spot, we should have two, hopefully three, talented QB’s vying for that spot.
    My other takeaway was, without hurrying opponents QB, there are way too many openings for huge plays in our secondary. I know, it was a season long problem, but their failings were most evident against Heisman quality QB’s. Not withstanding #14, who is brilliant and #20 who played as well as I remember all season, the rest suck. It’s as tho they play with a mindset of, allow the catch then tackle, with the hopes that the ball comes out. I didn’t see 28, thank god, but 26 and 4 were lost all night.
    My point is, along with most here, I’d love to see 5 star recruits in the skill positions, it’s not gonna happen until we prove that we have a true QB who can make their talent show. Isn’t that all they want?

    1. Excellent analysis, “Subway Alum”!

      I’ve seen the same thing too. Book just doesn’t throw the ball unless the WR is wide open. He has no feel for the game.

      But Reese is also not very creative. This was a game to go away from tendencies, try trick plays, etc. Nothing, zilch, nada on the creativity front.

      The O line is so over-rated. Other than the first Clemson game, when the Tigers were down several key starters up front, these bums always come up small in big spots. That’s part coaching and part on the fat assess who read too much of their own publicity.

      The D is good in the front seven but only good, not great, and when your backend is as soft as ND’s, you need to dominate up front. These guys just don’t get enough consistent pressure on opposing QBs, especially when they play against top O lines.

      “Sub” you said all that needed to be said about the DBs. They are poor and have been forever. If ND had just one shutdown corner that would make it easier on the whole D. They just lost out on a big-time recruit that committed to SC.

      The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Until the ND powers that be realize their insanity things won’t change. BK is mediocre, but he gets no help from the admin. That’s where the first change needs to happen.

      GO IRISH!

  2. Another huge coaching change in the football-rabid south.
    Brian Kelly bristles about ND being unfairly ridiculed for being playoff roadkill.
    Enjoy next season.

  3. Take a good look at Ohio State’s players, along with Alabama’s. They are bigger, stronger and faster. Therein lies the problem. That, and they have better coaching/preparation. Not to knock Brian Kelly, whom I admire. He just doesn’t seem to prepare his teams properly. The game plan for Alabama was pretty bad. I felt that our offensive play calling and personnel usage was, well, offensive. Why not give Tyree and C’Bo more touches? I do not think Tommy Rees is the answer as OC. If the Irish want to compete with the big boys, they need to be able to recruit the type of players those teams have. Otherwise, what we are now is the future. I will always love the Fighting Irish. But, it doesn’t need to be this way.

  4. I’m beginning to see something of a consensus developing on here between and among the diehards.

    So why can’t others see the same things so many of us do?

    More importantly is why BK and company can’t see where football is today. Unless BK can reinvent himself for a second time in five years things won’t change. One thing he needs to do to help himself is get the ND administration to look into what it can do to help recruiting.

    Imagine if you add a five star and one more high four star every recruiting season that you used to miss out on. Now imagine what that means in four years. That’s about eight top players to help beat the big boys.

    Of course all players need development. Perhaps BK can bring in a QB guru since he can’t seem to be able to do the job.

    Regardless, things need to change if a NC is the goal and not just ten win seasons.

    1. Every great revolution needs a leader, thanks for being that courageous voice in a sea of darkness.
      ND shall rise again!

      1. The voice of stupidity speaks again!

        I see you’ve removed the sausages you love so much from your mouth.

        But you stay classy, Rhonda!

  5. Patrick,

    Those years of truly mediocre football are what too many have come to associate with ND football. Add bad defeats in big games and mediocrity is what non-ND fans know about the state of the program.

    I agree that ND under BK is much better than at any time since Lou. And I also agree with your diagnosis of what this team is lacking. There are two big issues, however. One is BK’s inability to develop skill players but especially elite QBs. He and his staff also can’t deem to get cover CBs. The other is the school’s rigid standards that handicap recruiting. There is a middle ground between letting anyone in and only admitting Rhodes scholars. ND needs to get back to whatever arrangement existed between Lou and the admin office.

  6. This was a weird game in some ways. The result was never really in doubt, yet the Irish managed to stay within striking distance. It wasn’t like 2012 where the Irish basically didn’t even show up. This time they tried to compete and make plays. The defense tried to make stops. They didn’t have that deer in headlights look like they had in 2012.
    But it’s just not enough. Sure, Patrick is right in the sense that this is better than the D/W/W years, for whatever that’s worth. I mean, that’s not saying a whole lot because they were truly bad coaches. BK is an ok coach, I always say for a mid level program without NC aspirations, whose goals are to get to bowl games every year, he’d be fine. But he’s just not elite. But it’s not all on him. Some of the blame goes to the PTBs at ND, the ones that really call the shots. They are perfectly satisfied with just knocking at the door and never getting in. Even if BK were an elite coach I’m not sure that would be enough because you have to have elite playmakers if you want to compete with the Alabamas of the world.
    At this point ND fans have two choices. One is just to stick with them, knowing that our elite days are never coming back and just taking it game by game. Or move on, find another team or just give up on CFB. Because barring some significant change in ND’s philosophy this is the best you’re going to get. I was really hoping I’d get to see ND win at least one NC since I started following them in 2002. But it’s just not going to happen.

  7. Book doesn’t have the arm to go deep, so he dinks anbd dunks. Which could work out, for a team with gamebreakers who get tons of YAC.
    Like, say, Alabama….(who have a QB who can really launch it, and isn’t dependent on dink and dunk…,,,so, yeah.).

    ND: 27 completions, 67 YAC.

    Kelly stuck with Book, and watched Jurko walk away. And last night was one of the ‘dividends’ of that kind of shrewd coaching dcision.

  8. I love the Irish and am grateful we are closer than in many years. Yet, I also share ‘that feeling’ and relative bewilderment when watching ANOTHER football game after a QB launches a deep pass; and after being stunned at the arm strength, I also pinch myself and wonder. It’s one of my primary dreams for Notre Dame. I do wish we had the potential to destroy elite teams again.

  9. How sad is it that the new ND standard in big games is not get blown out and humiliated?!

    That’s going beyond the box score.

    There was a time when ND was expected to win and beat everyone. How times have changed!

    But what’s sad is how comfortable many so-called ND fans are with this state of affairs. They have mastered the art of rationalizations, excuse-making, and ad hominem attacks on those who point out the truth to them. This is the new “Shake down the thunder” for these so-called fans!

    No wonder trolls of other teams love this site so much. They get to laugh at the goobers who live on either faded glories or accepting mediocrity because that’s all they’ve ever known about ND football.


    1. I agree Rob. I’m 64 years old and started watching Notredame football since I was 8 years old. Kelly really needs to look at his offense and make some changes. Coaching, scheme, play calling, personnel philosophy, structure. If he is not willing to do this I’m afraid nothing is going to change. We all will have to wait 3 or 4 more years and hope he doesn’t get another extension.

    2. I wouldn’t call this mediocrity. Mediocrity to me were early years of BK and trips to middle-tier bowls, or the Hawaii Bowl under Weis. Willingham and Davie also had those years. Remember when beating Purdue wasn’t a given? When Michigan State would physically push ND all over the field? When one week ND would go from upsetting Michigan to being down 42-3 at half time in East Lansing? Navy breaking the streak? Losing to UConn and Syracuse? I could go on. To me, that was mediocrity.

      ND is on the outside looking in at the three elite programs in the game. Along with every other school. What ND lacks is the offensive firepower, specifically at QB, WR and RB. That is what separates Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State not just from ND, but the rest of college football.

      I believe ND has the depth and talent on the lines. The incoming recruiting class has the potential to fill the playmaking voids. This game was no surprise, just as the ACC championship wasn’t either. ND can ball control and smother most teams in the country, except the three I mentioned before.

      I think with a few key pieces added, they are as close as they’ve been since 1993 to taking the field and having a chance against anyone. The question is if they can recruit and develop those elite players at QB, RB and WR. If not? They are easily a 10-12 win team each year, who will lose any time they are in the playoffs. If they can? Then I think we could see a title in the next few years.

      1. Spot on Patrick. I agree. The formula to winning a natty in today’s college football is good defense unstoppable offense. Kelly has to willing to change. What do I mean. Play these young players. Get rid of coaches not pulling their weight both in recruiting and development such as Del Alexander. Change the offense rpo game, uptempo, push the ball vertically

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